On Jan. 1, 2021, a user with the handle @masonoelle uploaded a video to TikTok. In the video, a compilation of short clips blink by, highlighting the climate crisis (polar ice caps melting, deforestation, major flooding), critiques of the United States Army, and the oversaturation of media in the form of TikTokers like Charli D’Amelio. A somber violin piece soundtracks the 20-second video that unintentionally came to define the Corecore aesthetic as it is now known on TikTok.
On that app, the suffix -core is frequently used as a modifier to describe a type of aesthetic. For example, say someone is a fan of a cluttered house and a maximalist lifestyle, then they might describe their aesthetic as #Cluttercore. Maybe they’re big into frogs; they’d be into #Frogcore. One of the most popular aesthetics to take over the platform is #CottageCore, a hashtag that now has over 12 billion views. Corecore is a play on the name of the suffix itself and can best be described as a form of visual poetry that is meant to evoke certain emotions.
This particular aesthetic may sound vague—and it would certainly confuse those who are not chronically online. While the term is elusive and its original creator remains unknown, videos using the hashtag Corecore are finding an audience on TikTok, with more than 395 million views dating back to its first use on the app, by a user named @heksensabbat in July 2022. Here’s what to know about its meaning and uncertain origins.
TikTok has warped the meaning of aesthetics. The word “aesthetic,” itself, has become a catch-all term for Gen Z, encompassing moods, feelings, and subcultures around which people can find like-minded users online. The niche-ification of the platform has carved out small corners of the Internet for seemingly every special interest, mood, hobby, like, dislike, and, yes, aesthetic.
In the context of these many cores, as Chance Townsend writes for Mashable, “through its name, Corecore makes itself sound like the antithesis of genre itself; its content can be anything, and its creators can use any type of media to convey a central premise.” Kieran Press-Reynolds, a digital culture reporter at Insider who first wrote about Corecore in November 2022, tells Mashable that “Corecore is essentially an anti-trend that can be loosely defined as similar and disparate visual and audio clips that are meant to evoke some form of emotion.”
At its most basic, Corecore is a style of video editing that often features seemingly random clips edited together at various speeds as somber music plays in the background (though rap songs accompany some). Some of these clips are what are known as “deep-fried sh-tposts,” which are memes or videos that have been reposted dozens of times through different filters such that the quality warps and appears grainy. There are clips from TV shows and movies like Family Guy, Taxi Driver, and American Psycho; snippets of YouTube and TikTok videos; or just random videos of people doing everyday things.
Perhaps most important to the trend are the feelings behind the videos. According to KnowYourMeme, “Many Corecore edits hark on sadness, depression, and loneliness … Originally, Corecore videos used many British signifiers and harked on social change, global concerns and oversaturation of popular media,” but many of them have evolved to be by and large “nonsensical.” Some may focus on certain themes, such as the experience of being a woman in a sexist world, while others try to comment more broadly on the overwhelming, disconnected, random, oversaturated nature of being a human in the world today.
KnowYourMeme dates this trend back to 2020, when it was originally referenced as an aesthetic on Tumblr and then transferred over to TikTok, where it started going viral in 2022. Before the aesthetic transitioned between platforms, it served a different purpose on Tumblr and Twitter. Townsend writes that it existed on these platforms “as fun jabs towards a saturated naming convention,” but it evolved into something new after making the leap to TikTok.
Aside from the number of viewers the videos attract, it’s difficult to pinpoint what makes one Corecore video better than another. Though @masonoelle’s 2021 TikTok video is one of the earliest to use the style, one of the most popular videos from the trend, with more than 10 million views, starts out with a man-on-the-street style interview of a kid saying he wants to be a doctor. When asked how much he wants to make, he responds, “I’m gonna make people feel OK.” The video quickly cuts to sped-up videos of people walking in a city, a clip of Ryan Gosling in Blade Runner 2049 screaming. Then it cuts to a row of people in a casino playing slot machines and a man talking about chicken “living in the metaverse.” It’s full of intentionally jarring juxtapositions and set to a kind of pensive sonic wall.
When reached out to for comment through Instagram, @masonoel (who uses a slightly different handle on that app) responded with a custom TIME “Corecore” video that featured this year’s “Person of the Year” cover and screenshots of articles from the website. It ended with text that reads, “Thank you for your TIME.”
On the user’s Instagram story, they posted a statement that read, “The whole point of this stuff is to create something that can’t be categorized, commodified, made into clickbait, or moderated—something immune to the functions of control that dictate the content we consume and the ideas we are allowed to hold.”
Write to Moises Mendez II at email@example.com.